The best thing I have ever done with 40 dollars

Our family lives amply. We have a summer house, tennis lessons, and someone to scrub our toilet every other week. Or more specifically our four toilets because why would we ever want to wait to pee. We can pay for braces times 4 because now kids get braces twice. We grumble, we track, we wish it weren’t so, but we still have the money to buy organic berries to get their seeds stuck in those expensive metal brackets.

I have spent 40 dollars treating a friend to sushi lunch, getting a pedicure, and adding a new chime to my video doorbell. In fact most things we buy are MORE than $40. The electric battery for my fancier than necessary lawnmower costs $150. The replacement cushions for my outdoor furniture somehow add up to $800. We spend 3 times $40 on annuals to put in expensive pots to make the entry to our house more cheerful.  I could go on. And on. And on and on and on.

The staff led us in the same cheer that they offer each other every morning.
Last week my son’s middle school had its “big” fundraiser. Big of course is a relative term as this school with its 65% free and reduced lunch raised one quarter of what the elementary school raised despite having 3 times the students. If you can work through that run on sentence and that math you could attend the honors portion of his middle school. Instead of vacation packages and other opulent offerings we sold kid’s art and $5 raffle tickets. Luckily we sold a lot of both of these items. Despite living on teacher’s salaries the staff showed up in large numbers. They bought gift cards, signed up for each other’s pie making classes and even donated in the paddle raise.

We also featured choir, Shakespeare and chamber performances by students. I had worried that the kids would distract from the drinking and spending and realized quickly how wrong I had been. They arrived in gowns, straightened each other’s ties and trailed committed family members behind them. Ahead of time we had arranged to waive the $15 admission for families of performers and any other family who needed it. This was an inelegant effort. As you can imagine in a school with 750 students speaking a dozen languages there were some families who didn’t receive the full information.

One of these women arrived on the arm of her seventh grader. The girl’s eyes were bright as she scanned the room for the music stand she had painted. The mother’s eyes were cast downward. I had told the City Year volunteers working the door that all of the comped tickets were on their list. By the time the mom realized that her name was missing her daughter had found her music stand and was gesturing with excitement. The mother wouldn’t take a step into the room.

I had drifted over and asked the mom how I could help. She told me she didn’t need help she just needed to take her daughter and go…they didn’t have a ticket.

Setting up her stand. 
When I told her that every family whose kid had contributed to the benefit got free tickets she was suddenly as bright as her daughter. She hustled across the room and they looked together at the colorful music stand, their eyes as large as the ones her daughter had painted. The eyes on the stand cried tears of music notes. In a moment of life imitating art the girl’s eyes also welled with tears as she noticed that her stand was one of three featured in the prime corner of the room.

The price on the music stand? $40.

There was no way they could take it home. I suggested that they pose for pictures with it. They must have taken 25 shots. After digging into the buffet I saw the mother and daughter leaving arm and arm as they had arrived.

A half an hour later I went to put my name on the music stand that Oliver had painted, as instructed, in the colors of our living room. When I told him to do it I felt a bit guilty…this was certainly curtailing his creativity…but I wanted it to look good with our red leather couch. A few stands over the large eyes cried their musical tears.  As I added my name to this piece as well, I was pretty sure her mother would not care if it complimented their decor.

Such a little thing. One missed pedicure. One fewer sushi lunch. And yet it wasn’t a little thing at all.

The art teacher reported that the student had tears in her eyes once again when she realized she could bring her piece home. The next day Oliver thrust the following note into my hand:

I think about our bounty a lot. We give back in many ways. Even when we write big checks it never feels like enough. Yet somehow this forty dollar gift left me feeling more effective than many of my larger scale efforts. 

This student wanted me to have seen her mom’s face. But I already had. I saw the beauty in her mother’s facial expression as she marveled at the beauty in her daughter’s artistic expression.

I can imagine what she looked like when her daughter presented her with the stand to keep. And I can imagine it again and again as she watches her daughter create art supported by the music stand, and in some small way, me.

Do you have a small gift that moved you in a big way? I would love to hear your story…